Spits skill too much for Hounds will


by Peter Ruicci (Independent Media) | Photo by Bob Davies

High-end offensive skill, wielded by elite experienced players, is as good as currency in the OHL.

The Windsor Spitfires cashed in on the ability of their talented veteran forwards on Friday, holding off the Soo Greyhounds 3-0 in a hard-fought clash before 3,673 at GFL Memorial Gardens.

Matthew Maggio, Shane Wright and Brett Harrison scored impressive goals and netminder Joey Costanzo was a standout, as the Spits (42-16-4-2) won their fourth in a row.

But Hounds head coach John Dean was anything but disappointed with the way in which his charges performed.

“We competed right to the final whistle. I’m extremely excited about the effort, from our leaders to the young bucks,” said Dean, whose club has three regular season games remaining, including Saturday’s 7:07 p.m. start against the Spits here. “It’s not easy being in the situation we’re in. For our guys to come out and scrap for 60 minutes, man, it was fun to be on the bench.”

“I’m really proud of the guys. We battled,” said Greyhounds defenceman Andrew Gibson. “We pushed that team, we made it hard on them. I thought our work ethic was really good, right until the end.”

However, as hard as the home team worked, Windsor’s superior skill spelled the difference.

“We definitely have a great group of skill guys,” agreed Spits head coach Marc Savard, whose club held a 34-33 edge in shots. “Wright, Maggio, Harrison, (Alex) Christopoulos. We have lots of game-breakers.”

“One-hundred-per-cent, they have a high skill level,” said Dean, whose club dropped its fifth in a row, falling to 18-32-9-6. “And they capitalize on opportunities. But our guys are close. They’re super, super close.”

Costanzo made numerous big saves. The veteran goalie, acquired  from Niagara in late September, made a nifty blocker save on a driving Kalvyn Watson seven minutes into the second period. Twenty seconds later, he absolutely robbed Justin Cloutier, following a Mark Duarte feed, at the side of the Spits goal.

With 3:25 to go in the third and the Hounds pushing, Costanzo thwarted Bryce McConnell-Barker in front. Twenty seconds after that, he turned aside Duarte who tried to jam the puck in from in tight.

“Obviously, he was excellent,” Savard said of his second-year netminder. “He’s been great for us all year.”

Before the first period was eight minutes old, Maggio beat his man to the net and, on the finishing end of a 2-on-1, slipped a Jacob Maillet feed past Charlie Schenkel for a 1-0 lead. The goal for Maggio, the OHL’s leading points-producer, was his 51st.

At 5:40 of the middle frame, Maggio fed Wright on the left wing and the Seattle Kraken prospect whistled a one-timer past Schenkel from the face-off circle. That was goal No. 13 in just 16 games for Wright, whose rights were acquired from Kingston at the January trade deadline.

Seven-minutes later, a Jacob Holmes pass from the left point found Harrison in the right face-off circle. The puck was barely on his stick before Harrison rifled a shot high to the short side. The goal for the former Oshawa General was his 33rd and it gave the visitors a 3-0 cushion.

“Homer threw a bullet at (Schenkel),” Savard marveled. “It was unbelievable. What a shot.”

Though the Hounds pressed hard in the third, they were unable to beat Costanzo, who recorded his first OHL shutout.

With the victory, the Spitfires managed to remain two points up on the London Knights (43-19-2-0) in the race for top spot in the Western Conference standings. Both teams have four regular season games remaining. London was a 6-3 winner over Kingston on Friday.

“We have to find a way to capitalize on our chances,” said Dean. “But it’s tough to be disappointed in the group tonight.”

“I’m really proud. We showed we can hang with the top dogs,” said Duarte. “I think I can speak for (fellow overages) Ryan Thompson and Kalvyn Watson. These are our last games and no one’s giving up. We’re playing for us and for each other.”

And while he won’t be here next season, Duarte took time to look ahead.

“If you want to have a winning team and go far next season, it starts now.”

Despite being eliminated from the playoffs “guys are still putting their bodies on the line,” Gibson said of the shots the Hounds blocked on Friday. “It shows we’re doing it for each other and the team. It shows we care.”

Harrison and Maggio had a goal and an assist each for the winners, who were at less than full strength.

Windsor dressed just 16 skaters to go along with two goalies.

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